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The bigger issues at the Demons

Rohan Connolly and Michael Gleeson believe Melbourne's disappointing performance on the weekend highlights bigger issues at the club.

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The last time Melbourne suffered a loss of historic proportions the club sacked its coach Dean Bailey while Cameron Schwab, the chief executive who had been unofficially chopped on the eve of that debacle, was reinstated.

This time around, after the club's worst performance on the MCG, it is Schwab's head that sits firmly on the chopping block, although equally there is no prospect of Mark Neeld surviving until the end of the season - let alone the end of his three-year contract - should this on-field crisis continue.

An ugly set of numbers. Melbourne walk in after losing to Essendon, 6th April 2013. Click for more photos

Demons in hell

An ugly set of numbers. Melbourne walk in after losing to Essendon, 6th April 2013. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo

The forces are mustering against Schwab, who oversaw the rebuilding of the football department, which was given "carte blanche" to transform the culture of the club under a coach with four years of experience as an AFL club assistant. Schwab and his team placed Neil Craig alongside Neeld, which has added up to two tough, unforgiving operators who stormed in and treated most of the on-field leaders with contempt and threw two talented but green young men to the wolves by making them captains too soon. That behaviour continued on Saturday night when the coach made an example of Jack Watts when the eyes of the football world were already fixed on him.

Previously Schwab had appointed Todd Viney on a five-year contract as head of development at Melbourne, around the time the brilliant young Jack was unofficially committing to the club. Just how united the development team and the rest of the football department has been over this short and disastrous journey is a matter deserving of serious question. Certainly player development is not flourishing. The recruiting continues to be an embarrassment. So many high draft picks have left disenchanted. One-time All-Australian defender James Frawley has stayed and watched his career head south since the new coaches took over.

Now the eyes of the AFL are firmly upon Schwab, who stood in the rooms after the game nodding sternly as the shell-shocked Neeld was deep in conversation with a grim-faced Craig. The AFL has history with the Melbourne chief executive and has been gunning for him since the weight of evidence against Melbourne began to build towards the end of last year in the

Demons CEO Cameron Schwab's head is on the chopping block.

Demons CEO Cameron Schwab's head is on the chopping block. Photo: John Woudstra

2009 tanking investigation. 3AW's Neil Mitchell has become one of many high-profile Demons calling for his sacking.

Frustrated at being unable to prove Schwab played a part in the plan to lose games - which became messy and panicked after the club won two games in a row in the second half of the season - deep animosity at head office lingers. The Melbourne board was divided on Schwab in 2011 and still is. Last year the CEO was re-signed on a four-year contract but that contract has a six-month termination clause.

Attempts have been made to communicate with Melbourne directors - possibly as early as Saturday night after the sporting massacre at the MCG when an emergency meeting of key board members lasted long after the final siren. Some remain angry that they did not follow their gut instincts about Schwab when Bailey lost his bitter internal dispute with the CEO. Certainly senior players who have left the club remain adamant Schwab is a big problem who must go.

The AFL cannot step in to take over a club which is solvent, nor can it act by placing its own man in the CEO's job as it did with the Giants because it does not own Melbourne. But it can pull the strings as tightly as it chooses, given the Demons' financial dependence on the AFL.

The strategy being employed publicly by Andrew Demetriou became more than clear on Monday when he virtually delivered an invitation to Melbourne to ask for help. Melbourne is resisting that, but there is every indication the club is in public denial. Just as president Don McLardy and his team failed to admit they did the wrong thing in 2009, they are spinning their current plight into another stratosphere. How can a senior football man with Neil Craig's reputation actually say with a straight face that the players are performing well on the training track?

A couple more games like the last two and Demetriou will cease inviting and start demanding.

The results of Saturday night's crisis talks remain unclear but McLardy's letter on Monday, delivered to Melbourne members and supporters, stated: "Despite temptation and outside pressures looking for us to make radical changes, these will not occur." McLardy's intentions are good but he has his head in the sand. Former great Greg Wells is the subject of an ex-player push to revive the club at board level while another potential succession plan involves another wealthy businessman, Geoff Freeman.

The president, whose club was fined $500,000 by the AFL for bringing the game into disrepute after the league and the club reached a deal on the contrived losses of 2009, mentions one player in his letter - the under-aged teenager Jesse Hogan. What a dreadful message that sends to the players and the stakeholders of the Grand Old Flag. If that is the best on-field hope McLardy can offer then heaven help the Demons.

As cruel as this may sound, it is thankful Hogan is not available to play right now.

Surely the club is doing enough emotional damage to enough players young and old without inflicting its unique brand of pain on another promising youth.